We’ve all heard myths about “hacks” or “surefire secrets” that promise to spin keyword straw into search engine gold. But keywords are a science as well as an art, and how you use, place and target your keywords can have a profound effect on the way your content ranks and performs.
It’s time to move beyond the dusty myths of yore and focus on the truth of effective SEO keyword strategies.
Using Keywords Poorly Can Hurt Your Content
If you’re still choosing and using keywords according to any of the keyword myths that have somehow become prevalent over the years, you’re doing yourself—and your clients—a disservice.
Leave the mythology to the Greeks and Romans, and stick with tried and true tactics.
Myth 1. Keyword Research Is a Waste of Time
This could not be farther from the truth. Heading into uncharted territory without a map only leads to one destination: disaster.
Truth 1: Keyword Research is Essential to SEO
You wouldn’t build a house without pouring a solid cement foundation, would you? Just like that house, keyword research is a solid foundation for any SEO campaign. It tells you what words, phrases and topics your audience is searching for.
How can you expect to build a successful campaign without those key bits of knowledge? You can’t.
Myth 2: Keyword Targeting Is Unnecessary
All you have to do is write good content, and traffic will come. Right? Not so fast.
Truth 2: Without Targeting, You’re Throwing Darts Blindfolded
You’re publishing content on your site to attract traffic. To effectively attract that traffic, you must target within that content the keywords people are searching for.
More importantly, the keywords you target—and the content you publish—must speak to searcher intent to get the type of traffic you want.
Google is never going to send you traffic for random, aimless content—EVER.
Myth 3: You Should Only Target High-Volume Keywords
It’s only logical that you’d target keywords with high search volume. The more people searching for a keyword, the more potential traffic you can bring to your site. But in reality, high volume keyword targeting can be a mistake—if those are the only keywords you choose.
Truth 3: Go For Relevance, Intent, Viability and Variety
Trends come and go, interests change, and the internet is fickle. It’s entirely possible that a keyword with high volume today won’t be as relevant six months from now. If that happens, you’ll have to go back into all that content you created and adjust it for current keywords. Not impossible, but a potentially time-consuming task depending on how much content you have.
The other problem with high volume keywords is that they can be tremendously competitive, depending on the vertical. Every single one of your competitors are probably also going after those keywords. By targeting the same thing everyone else is, you’re joining a lot of noise instead of rising above it.
Instead, target relevant keywords with enough search volume to be viable, but also have user intent behind them, and have low enough competition that you won’t be placed out of the running immediately.
Then, as you gain traction for these keywords, you can go for all the higher competition keywords you want because you’ll have built up enough authority to be competitive for them.
Also, don’t forget other options like related semantic keywords, keyword phrases, location-based keywords, and keywords related to your subtopics. All of these can be good additional foundations for your keyword strategy.
Keep your targeted keywords rich and varied, and you’ll remain successful even if search volume changes.
Myth 4: URLs Need to Contain Keywords
This is not true. Sort of.
Truth 4: They’re Optional
On the one hand, why not include keywords in URLs? It can’t hurt, right? If a user sees the keyword they searched for in the URL, it’s an indication they’re in the right place and will find the information they’re looking for.
But do they help with ranking? Well…
In 2016, during a Google Webmaster Central office hours hangout, someone asked whether keywords in URLs are a ranking factor. John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, gave this reply:
“I believe that’s a very small ranking factor, so it’s not something I’d really try to force, and it’s not something where I’d say it’s even worth your effort to restructure a site just so you can include keywords in the URL.”
Then, in 2018, Mueller said:
“I wouldn’t worry about keywords or words in a URL. In many cases, URLs aren’t seen by users anyway.”
Add them, don’t add them, it’s up to you. Just don’t expect a huge ranking boost if you do.
Myth 5: For Good SEO, Keywords Need to Be Exact-Match
Say you’re doing keyword research for your pet care blog, and you find a valuable key phrase: “housebreak puppies.” The myth says that every single instance of that key phrase on your site must match that exactly.
Truth 5: Variations Count
Of course, if you hope to rank for that keyword phrase, you do want to use the exact-match version in at least a couple of places. But the keywords you use on the page and throughout the site can be related, and include comprehensive topical content related to the primary keyword.
- housebreaking puppies
- housebreak your puppy
- housebroken puppies
- puppy is housebroken
You’ll notice the different verb forms, and the use of both singular and plural nouns. Sometimes, using the the singular and plural can help you rank for both versions of that keyword.
Myth 6: Exact-Match Keywords Are Bad
Wait, wasn’t that last myth to use nothing but exact-match keywords? Yes, it was. You’ll also see advice that says using exact-match keywords is bad. It likely stems from Google’s stance on exact-match anchor text in too many inbound links being an instance of overoptimization, which was addressed by the Penguin update.
Truth 6: Everything in Moderation
Exact-match keywords are fine in your content, and even in the anchor text of some of your internal links. The important word there being some.
What you don’t want to do is cross over the threshold to spammy exact-match keyword use, either in content or internal link anchor text. That’s where you’ll get into trouble.
But sprinkling your document with exact-match keywords, local keywords, and other related keywords is a healthy approach to on-page optimization.
Myth 7: Use Exact-Match Keywords on Multiple Pages
If one page targeting an exact-match keyword is good, then lots of pages targeting that exact-match keyword must be even better!
Truth 7: Use Sub-Topic Keywords on Multiple Pages
You actually can have too much of a good thing. Targeting the same exact-match keyword on multiple pages is keyword cannibalization. You’re pitting those pages against each other, creating competition within your own site. It’s also setting yourself up for failure.
Instead, target your exact-match keyword on one page, and then, if your vertical and site structure call for it, subtopic keywords on other pages.
Using our pet care blog example again, the exact-match keyword might be “dog food.” You’ll target that on one page, then create subtopic pages for things like “canned dog food,” “dry dog food,” “senior dog food,” “puppy food,” “dog treats,” etc.
Myth 8: Stuff as Many Keywords as You Can into Your Blog for Anyone Who Searches for Your Keywords and Wants to Buy Your Keyword-Stuffed Keyword Products and Keyword Services
Ok, you’ve just crossed over into the forbidden domain of overoptimization.
Just kidding. It’s not forbidden. But it’s not good, either.
Truth 8: When in Doubt, Be Natural
You can get into some trouble if you over-optimize and keyword stuff your content. You may rank well for a little while, but it won’t last long, and you’ll have a harder time trying to climb back up the SERPs than if you’d just optimized your content correctly in the first place.
The natural use of keywords strategically sprinkled throughout your content is what’s important.
Myth 9: You Must Focus on Keyword Density to Rank Well
In the olden days of SEO, keyword density was a hot topic. Those days are long past.
Truth 9: Focus on Relevance, Intent and Contextual Placement
These three factors are far more important than some arbitrary keyword density formula.
The Keyword Truth Will Set Your Content Free
Taking risks with keywords can be a serious myth-take. Leave the fables to Aesop and focus your efforts on strategic keyword use, placement and targeting for content that’s helpful, engaging and ready to rank.